Reading Wallace Stevens


‘I’ve been reading Wallace Stevens.’


‘I thought you’d be pleased.’

‘I don’t get it.’

‘Wallace Stevens!’

‘I know who Wallace Stevens is.’

‘I’ve been reading him.’

‘You’ve always been reading him. Is this news?’

‘To me it is. I realised I’d been reading him for years without ever owning him. So I bought a book. Second hand. Used to belong to the Coventry library service.’

‘Where are you going with this?’

‘That’s exactly it. I’ve no idea. I just saw something the other day on Twitter that really caught my eye. That Wallace Stevens was so good it made John Ashbery want to give up writing. Can you imagine that? The force of it? I thought it was just me who went through that kind of stuff. Turns out I’m not alone. Wallace Stevens, eh?’

‘What did you make of him?’

‘It goes by you beautifully, as in a dream. And the words aren’t complicated. I think Ted Hughes understood that, and Kenneth Koch, otherwise they wouldn’t have put him in so many anthologies for children. But he’s very definitely not writing ‘for children’ at the same time. A part of me thought it was quite like Shakespeare. There was a wonderful poem about religious fundamentalism as well. Quite brilliant.’

‘What was it called?’

‘Can’t remember.’

‘Sometimes I despair,’ the book says.


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